Home Read Classic DVD Review: The Who | 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live

Classic DVD Review: The Who | 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live

The old wankers may not get along anymore, but this doc is more than alright.

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This DVD came out back in 2001. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


“We had the odd gig where we played well,” says Pete Townshend — and without even a hint of irony, mind you — on The Who documentary 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live.

That is, of course, like saying The Beatles wrote the occasional hit. The Who aren’t just one of the ’60s most powerful and passionate bands; they’re also one of rock’s quintessential live acts. Keith Moon’s flailing drumwork, Roger Daltrey’s microphone-whirling prowess, Townshend’s windmilling power chords, hell, even John Entwistle’s stock-still stage stance — and let’s not forget the band’s equipment-trashing antics — pretty much wrote the rock-concert rule book that bands follow to this day.

Whether Townshend’s willing to own up to it or not, nothing could be more obvious after viewing 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live, a new DVD re-release of their 1994 video compilation. Like their previous, definitive retrospective The Kids Are Alright, this 150-minute DVD alternates between live concert fare, bits of backstage footage and interviews with the surviving members. The main difference is while The Kids Are Alright relied on more famous footage (Woodstock, The Rolling StonesRock ’n’ Roll Circus, The Smothers Brothers Show), R&B consists of what it calls “largely unseen” clips, mostly from big outdoor gigs during the band’s late ’60s and early ’70s heyday.

Sometimes, the rarity of the video is debatable — their 1970 Isle of Wight show has since been released on its own, and I doubt there’s a true-blue Who fan alive who hasn’t seen their Monterey Pop performance. But no matter how familiar the footage may be, the quality of the performances is consistently astonishing. Standouts include: Young Man Blues and I Don’t Even Know Myself from that Isle of Wight show; Heaven and Hell, I Can’t Explain and Water, recorded at Tanglewood Music Shed the same year; Substitute, Drowned and Bell Boy (featuring Moon borrowing Daltrey’s microphone to sing the chorus) from a 1974 gig at Charlton Football Club. All these cuts capture The Who at full strength, merging their signature sounds and styles into magnificent chaos and tearing through their songs like an out-of-control locomotive barrelling down the tracks without caring what’s at the other end of the line.

If R&B has any faults, they can be summed up in four words: Too much Kenney Jones. Nothing against him, really. It’s just that after Moon died in ’78, the band seemed to lose much of its momentum and purpose. And after watching Moon the Loon defying the laws of physics with his kinetic pounding, seeing Jones trying to carry the master’s sticks on classics like 5:15 (Chicago, 1979) and Behind Blue Eyes (Concert for Kampuchea, also 1979) is just a letdown. Surely there’s old footage that could have been used instead. And while I’m quibbling, they could have spent a few more bucks on the package in general. The stereo-only sound mix and video transfer aren’t exactly first-rate, there are no liner notes and nothing in the way of DVD extras — no commentaries, no lyrics, no bios, etc. Still, it’s hard to complain about missing extras when the main feature is so superbly entertaining.

Some of the best moments, ultimately, come not from Townshend’s guitar but from his mouth. Typically cantankerous and savagely honest, he weighs in with some hilarious and unforgettable lines during the interviews. Usually the victim is Daltrey. The Who were “four people vying for the audience’s attention and I have to say that I think Keith and I won,” he comments at one point. “John just never bothered to join the fight and Roger just lost, really.” Later, Pete explains he hates playing Sister Disco because “every time we’ve ever done it, there’s a point at which Roger comes over to me, stands next to me and makes some kind of soppy smile, which is supposed to convey some sort of Everly Brothers relationship which isn’t actually there … Often that will be the moment I look him in the face and go, ‘You wanker!’ ”

The old wankers may not get along in person anymore, but on 30 Years of Maximum R&B they’re more than alright.